Ditch the Gigantic Open Plan and Design for Teams of 15

The latest issue of the Leesman Review had an interesting article on how Dunbar’s number – that is the maximum number of relationships the human brain has developed the ability to handle – is affecting modern office design.

That number for those wondering, is 150, and on a more personal and meaningful level the number reduces to a much smaller, 15:

“That number breaks into concentric circles of varying degrees of interaction down to a core group of 5 close relationships and an additional layer of 10 slightly less close relationships, giving us a 15 person subdivision of the larger clan.”

Using a couple lawfirms as examples, the article describes what seems to be a shift in design – away from the large open plan office layouts – to a more intimate team-based style. And why is this? You guessed it, Dunbar’s number.

Essentially the idea is to create teams of employees – right around the 15 person mark – and have them in ‘neighborhoods’ of less than 150 employees – the maximum number of meaningful relationships according to Dunbar.

Now in terms of what we see here on a regular basis, I do get the sense that the large, open plan monstrosities are being left behind to a large degree. But I suppose the real question to consider is whether office designers and companies alike are being proactive about designing intentionally to create small-team dynamics – and if not, when will they begin?

Luckily for me, I work by myself so I feel like I am safely within Dunbar’s number!